17. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1


  • The Organization of the Department of State
This memorandum is in response to your request for a paper on this subject. I have written with complete frankness, and perhaps with a certain presumption. On the other hand, I have probably watched the Department as closely as anyone outside it for the last four years, and I have been so careful to avoid comment to others that the temptation in reporting to you is irresistible.
The Department of State probably has more talented men incompletely used than any other department of government. There are all sorts of reasons for this weakness—the cautious and slow-moving personnel policy of the Foreign Service, the premium which is placed on safety and the avoidance of error, the mindless proliferation of committees and clearance processes, the inhibitions imposed by Congressional Committees which have not been properly cultivated, the inescapable difficulties of tension with other competitive departments, the tendency of all the rest of us to blame the State Department for the misbehavior of 120 other countries, and the Department’s own dangerous tendency to see other nations, not the USA, as its preferred clients.
Yet with all these disadvantages, the fact remains that there is a great opportunity for effective management within the department which has been lost by default in the last four years. This is the product of the interlocking character of Dean Rusk and George Ball.
No man can have all the qualities of an ideal Secretary of State. Dean Rusk has more than his share. He has complete integrity and loyalty. He has discretion and experience. He is a master of exposition, both with diplomats and with Capitol Hill. He has the personal confidence of Committees of Congress and of representatives of foreign governments to a degree not matched since George Marshall, the man he most admires.
But he is not a manager. He has never been a good judge of men. His instincts are cautious and negative, and he has only a limited ability to draw the best out of those who work with him. His very discretion seems like secretiveness in his dealings with subordinates; it is a constant [Page 35] complaint in the bureaus that even quite high officials cannot find out what the Secretary himself thinks and wants. This same concern gives great trouble to administrators like Bob McNamara and to Ambassadors like David Bruce.
Moreover, the Secretary has little sense of effective operation. He does not move matters toward decision with promptness. He does not stimulate aggressive staff work. He does not coordinate conflicting forces within his own department. The most notable example may be the course of the Department’s policy on the MLF. He has never approved of it but he has never taken control of it.
George Ball does not complement Dean Rusk’s weaknesses, although he has outstanding qualities of his own. He is a brilliant lawyer, a lucid and persuasive draftsman, and a formidable debater. He has a sharp, if erratic, eye for talent. He serves the President and the Secretary with zeal. He is a man of honor. But like many lawyers, he is a lone wolf and does not use the departmental staff effectively. He spends an excessive amount of time with the press. His judgment is jumpy. He is self-confident to the point of breeziness, and he constantly reaches for more administrative authority than he knows how to use. Unable himself to administer the department, he has consistently made it impossible for anyone else to do so.
The third-ranking member of the department, Averell Harriman, is probably the one man of the first magnitude on the 7th Floor. On world affairs he has courage, insight and force (though in domestic politics he is often foolish). He is fanatically loyal to the Presidency, and would wish nothing more than to be President Johnson’s most effective diplomatic instrument. Moreover, he has an outstanding record for picking colleagues. But he is 73. He was never very flexible and now he is becoming both rigid and unpredictable. Moreover, he no longer has the strength to discharge continuous operational responsibilities. And unfortunately he and Dean Rusk are quite unable to communicate with each other.
The rest of the Presidential appointees of the Department of State are a varied group. A new Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is essential. A new man for Europe is also needed. New leadership is wanted in international economic affairs. The Department still has not found the right Congressional Liaison officer. The Department needs a replacement for Abe Chayes as top lawyer. Most of all, the Department needs an “old pro” to fill the job Alex Johnson had as Deputy Under Secretary; Tommy Thompson hates it, does it very indifferently, and ought to go back to his real job as the best Kremlin-watcher there is.
On the other hand, the South American, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern Bureaus are led in different ways with competence and clarity. [Page 36] The Policy Planning Staff under Walt Rostow and Henry Owen needs more guidance from above but has the talent to become a major engine of initiative and imagination. The Cultural Affairs department under McPherson has too much luck to last. Public Affairs is well handled by Greenfield. Bill Crockett needs guidance and leadership but is good at his daily grind and very good with Rooney. Harlan Cleveland is the best UN staff officer since Dean Rusk. Tom Hughes is the best Intelligence Director ever.

Part Two: Possible Solutions

You have made it clear to everyone that you wish to keep Dean Rusk. There are excellent reasons for this, at least in the short run. Moreover, if you were to choose a successor it would be important to recognize that administrative energy and effectiveness might not be the first things you would look for. On any possible successor you would be insisting on many of the qualities which Rusk has and which are rare.
Nevertheless it is essential to recognize that as long as you have Dean Rusk it will be very difficult for you to organize the Department of State around or under him. It cannot be done at all—and should not even be tried—except through men in whom he himself has real and justified confidence.
I make this very strong point because of the history of confusion and failure in the Department of State when a President has tried to move around his Secretary to the No. 2 man. Hoover sometimes went past Stimson to Castle. Roosevelt often went past Hull to Welles. In the Kennedy Administration there was trouble when Bowles tried to have policies of his own.
Even though your own intention is never to do business that way, it is of the utmost importance that any arrangement that is made to tackle the management problem in the State Department be one about which the Secretary himself is genuinely content. This will not be easy. What makes it hard is that any solution will involve a deep disappointment to the understandable ambitions of George Ball. The Secretary has a proper and real affection for George, and I fear that he will find it very hard indeed to believe that it is right and necessary to make arrangements that will hurt George.
Yet the absolutely essential requirement if any change is to work is that the Secretary should choose a man who shall be responsible directly to him—and specifically not to George—for the political and administrative management of the Department under his direction (in military terms, a Chief of Staff). Such an arrangement is conceivable through the use of the third-ranking job in the Department, but only if [Page 37] George Ball were specifically confined to the economic side, and if the arrangement were spelled out in writing and published to the Department. Otherwise the necessary authority simply could not be concentrated and used.
I do not know whether George Ball would consent to stay in such an arrangement, and I am honestly uncertain whether in fact it would be best from your point of view for him to go or to stay. From the immediate point of view of any man who might be asked to do this job, it would certainly be preferable to accept the immediate pain of his departure in the interest of long-run effectiveness. If that were done, then the new man should be given George’s job, and still another man should be found to be Under Secretary for Economic Affairs.
Even aside from the problem of George Ball, I do not know whether there is a man whom you and Dean Rusk can agree on and to whom you can persuasively offer the confidence and the authority that a man would have to have for this assignment. The sooner you can find him the better. Every decision that is made before he is found will be a decision which would be better for the long-run effectiveness of the Department if he had sat in on it. Moreover, until you get this man, I think you will continue to find that the personnel recommendations of the Department of State are slow and uncertain and spotty. You and the Secretary need to begin the reconstruction of the Department as soon, and as near the top, as possible.

Part Three: What Change Might Accomplish

What specific reforms are possible in the Department of State under stronger leadership?
First, we must recognize that the great international problems do not yield to departmental management. What the Department can do is to analyze the problems, develop alternative courses, offer choices, signal opportunities, and execute decisions. The President and the Secretary must make the decisions. Management cannot transmit to the troops decisions it does not receive—it cannot and it must not try to usurp the responsibilities which the Constitution and people have placed elsewhere. Thus, in Vietnam the basic policy must be the President’s.
Within this limitation, many important improvements should be workable with proper preparation in the Department and around the Government and on the Hill—and with the President’s support.
Most important of all, the Department can be given a sense of direction and self-confidence and pride and energy—all the things which leadership and direction and zest can communicate.
As a fundamental part of this effort, the personnel policies of the Department of State can be gradually shifted in two directions: toward [Page 38] more rapid promotion of outstanding men, and toward a substantial and continuing reduction in the size of the enterprise. If the Department of State could be cut in half, and if half of the money saved were used for deserved salary increases, there would be a real diplomatic revolution of quality and energy in that agency. Nothing like that can be done overnight, but work can begin.
The Department can be imbued with a sense that it is responsible to the President for the advancement of the national interest broadly construed. At present its influence is low in many quarters because it does not dare to think in terms of the effective coordination and harmonization of all the interests and concerns of the President’s government. It too often defends only the immediate diplomatic interest—very often that of a complaining foreigner. It should have a larger view of its role. I am confident that in general the other great departments will welcome such a generous and broad assertion of the State Department’s role, because such an assertion would enlarge their own effectiveness and their own work. One of the great qualities of Alexis Johnson was his understanding of this general proposition—and no Foreign Service officer is more admired in Defense and CIA. It needs support from higher up.
The Department can and should expand the good missionary work which Dean Rusk has done for himself as an individual on Capitol Hill. The Congress prefers strength to weakness as long as it is combined with courtesy and good faith. Much of the Department has been a frightened punching-bag since Joe McCarthy’s time. There is no need for Dean Acheson’s arrogance, but there is great need for intense and self-respecting attention to changing the Department’s posture on the Hill.
A good Department of State can and should assume more responsibility than it has had in recent years for giving timely information to the President. President Kennedy wanted all this work done right under his own control, and my own office has tried to meet that interest. Moreover, in a measure the President’s own staff can be expected to have a more intimate sense of his immediate interests than the Department of State. But there is really no reason why the State Department cannot do as well in keeping in touch with the President himself as Bob McNamara does with most of his important Pentagon problems. If my office is a bottleneck or a constraint on such activity, its own habits ought to be revised.
Finally, the Department can and should do a very much better and stronger job of explaining American policy to the Government, to the world, and to the American people. The Secretary needs both staff support and policy urging on this point. He should be pressed by both his President and his Department to a more vigorous role.
McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President-McGeorge Bundy, Vol. 8. Confidential. The memorandum indicates the President saw it.